BARBERTON — Aurora claimed sole possession of the top spot in the Suburban League American Conference football standings Friday night.
Aurora ventured to Barberton and earned a 31-7 win with an impressive performance on both sides of the ball at Rudy Sharkey Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Moore ran for a touchdown and tossed a touchdown pass, and seniors AJ Barner, James Austin and John Papesh led the defense as the Greenmen (7-0, 3-0) topped the Magics (5-2, 3-1).
"We thought it was really two good football teams going to battle," Aurora head coach Bob Mihalik said. "We talked all week, the first team to 20 [points] would probably win. We thought it was going to be a low-scoring defensive game and I think it really was.
"We got going pretty early on offense and they adjusted and did a nice job. I thought we adjusted back in the second half and did some nice things, but it is about our defense. We have been playing team defense so hard. Yeah, [Ohio University recruit] AJ Barner is our star, but we have got 10 other guys playing hard as well and really buying in to coach [Brian] Wervey’s team concept."
The Greenmen took a 7-0 lead when Moore scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 8 seconds to go in the first quarter and senior Alex Bibza kicked his first of four extra points. The scoring drive featured 10 running plays with senior Anthony Gramm getting four carries and junior Evan McVay and Moore each getting three carries.
"This is the best performance we have had so far this year," Austin said. "This is definitely the best team we have played so far, and we came up big."
Aurora extended its lead to 14-0 with 11:29 to go in the second quarter via a 13-yard touchdown run by McVay. That drive included three passes by Moore with senior Ben Rogge snagging two receptions and Barner grabbing one reception.
The Magics responded quickly with a 68-yard touchdown pass from senior Chase Haywood to senior Kaeleb Vega with 9:35 left in the second quarter, and sophomore Eston Brown kicked the extra point to make it 14-7.
The Greenmen took a 21-7 lead into halftime following a 2-yard touchdown pass by Moore to senior Lenny Galaska with 26.4 seconds to go to cap a drive of mostly running plays.
Prior to that Aurora touchdown, Barberton thought it had a touchdown for a moment when senior cornerback Maliq Spragling grabbed an apparent interception and sprinted 50 yards to the end zone. The officials gathered and determined that Spragling had stepped out of bounds before he caught the ball. As a result, he was penalized for illegal participation.
The second half featured solid defensive play and Bibza booted a 27-yard field goal with 7:18 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Greenmen also got a 4-yard touchdown run by Gramm with 1:25 left.
"The game plan was to be more physical than them," Barner said. "We felt disrespected after last year when they came out to our field and walked all over us [42-20]. We wanted to beat them up front and be more physical than them. ... That is a really good team, but we came out here and took it to them."
Papesh said Aurora’s motto for this game was "11 strong" as he held 11 sticks during a post-game interview that were held together by a rubber band. The sticks were full of signatures from him and each of his teammates.
"Eleven strong was our goal [Friday]," Papesh said. "We are not individuals. We are going to come out here and we are going to play as a team and a unit and we did that tonight and it ended up working out for us.
"We were counting down during the summer for this game. It was Barberton, Barberton, Barberton. When are we going to play Barberton?"
Gramm had 91 rushing yards on 26 carries, and Moore completed 10 of 12 passes for 62 yards. Papesh grabbed an interception, Austin had three sacks and Barner and sophomore Ashton Price each had one sack.
Haywood completed 9 of 18 passes for 144 yards and Magics sophomore Markim McKinnie ran eight times for 50 yards.
"They just were more physical than we were," Barberton head coach Tony Gotto said. "They game-planned probably better than we did and they executed and we didn’t.
"They are good every year. They have been in the playoffs [15 times since 1998]. They are a playoff powerhouse, well-coached and play well. So, kudos to them."
Mihalik said this victory "puts us back on the map."
"We were down the last two years for Aurora, 6-4 and 7-3 is down for us," he said. "We kept plugging away and working hard and I think we are back. The kids are excited, and we are going to take them one at a time. We are in a tough region, Region 9 obviously [in Division III]."